Jewish Life in Russia, Then and Now

Feb. 19 2015

David Rozenson, a St. Petersburg-born Jewish educator and activist, recently received an award from the World Wide Association for St. Petersburg Leadership in a ceremony at the Hermitage Museum. Rozenson spoke with a journalist about his experiences growing up as a Jew in Communist Russia and his return after the collapse of the Soviet regime to help revive Jewish life (interview by Baila Olidort):

As head of the Avi Chai Foundation’s office in the former Soviet Union, I met with many individuals, and rarely found disrespect toward projects that brought Jewish/Israeli education and culture into the public sphere, even in places where formerly anything that related to Jewish life was taboo.

Among the projects that I worked on, for example, we tried to help attain legitimate status for academic Jewish life. Following much back and forth, we came into a dialogue on the matter with the rector of the St. Petersburg State University, a university where my mother, as a Jew, was not accepted to study medicine in her youth. . . . After some hesitation, he eventually agreed to open a full-fledged Department of Jewish Culture in a university where one would never imagine that the study of Judaism could be a legitimate academic pursuit.

Many other projects, religious and academic in nature, drawing Russian Jews who otherwise never would have taken part in Jewish activity or acknowledge their Jewish identities, have since opened. Twenty years ago this would have been impossible to imagine. And consider the number of synagogues, community centers, Jewish day schools, programs for Jewish youth that have sprouted in Russia. True, the political and economic situation is difficult; we must keep our eyes wide open. But we must also be fully appreciative of these developments.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish World, Russia, Russian Jewry, Soviet Jewry

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics